Judith Lautner (judith) wrote,
Judith Lautner

Animals in Translation

I am reading a book that I found somewhat accidentally online, called Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin. I read a short blurb about it, thought it might be interesting. I didn't realize that I had read about Temple Grandin before,  years ago, until I started reading the book.

She's an autistic woman. She has been working with animals for her whole life, because she discovered that she, as an autistic person, can think and see the way they do. She says herself that she is no "autistic savant horse whisperer", which I thought was one of the funnier lines in the book. And the book is co-written, I assume because her mastery of language and the variety most people like in it is somewhat limited.

For the most part the book does read like it's written by an autistic person. The sentences are simply constructed and the declarations tend to be "absolute". For example, "Unfortunately, when it comes to animals, all normal human beings are too abstractified, even the people who are hands-on". She often writes such broad generalizations. At times I am finding this irritating. Another time she describes how our eyes see depth by saying that our two eyes together provide slightly different viewpoints,which our brain puts together as depth.This isn't actually true.

But I'm quibbling. I think we have to take the nature of the autistic person into mind when reading something as valuable as this book, which provides new insights into animal - and, interestingly, human - vision and behavior.

One thing she mentions is the sensitivity of animals to details. How they see everything, while humans normally sort things without thinking about them and don't really see what isn't important at the moment. I can see how distracting this "seeing everything" can be,and it helps explain the autistic (which, incidentally, in a very different way, so does the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time (I am thinking of the title from memory, may be a little off)).

Some of us are more alert to certain types of details than others. Grandin mentions an interior decorator who sees a damaged tile in a bathroom and can't help see it and be disturbed by it. While others might not even notice it. And music. It occurred to  me that my attention to music falls in this category. I have asked many others about that public music and many of them say they don't even hear it. I can't help hearing it. I always hear it. I don't shut it out. I am always hearing things, and can usually hear the overwhelming sound of birds in the Costco parking lot, for example - but not always. Sometimes I am "not there". But I suspect there is no time I don't notice what music is playing.

I am not far into the book but am finding it absorbing and think it would be a valuable book for anyone who works with or has animals in their lives. Oh, what I remembered about Temple Grandin: she invented a different type of chute for cows, one that is more humane and that does not upset them. One thing that strikes me about her is that while she cares about the animals and wants to see them treated well, she has no concern about their deaths. I think most humans are like this, actually, but that her autism makes her more ready to accept this "way of the world". Raising animals to slaughter while they are still babies.

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